Embracing its deep roots and far-reaching artistry during its 30th Anniversary Season, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) honored four esteemed visionaries who have left their indelible stamps on the acclaimed chorus, including five-time Academy Award-winning film composer John Williams and LACC Founding Director Rebecca Thompson, at Gala Bel Canto, its annual fundraiser, on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, at Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Longtime LACC supporters and arts patrons Eileen and Ken Leech were also feted for their dedication to the chorus. The celebration, hosted by actress Jane Kaczmarek, included heartfelt accolades and moving musical tributes by 300 singers from five LACC ensembles, led by Artistic Director Anne Tomlinson, as well as a delectable three-course dinner, exquisite wines and a dazzling live auction. The event raised $300,000 to benefit Los Angeles Children’s Chorus’s artistic, educational and scholarship programs.
“We are proud to recognize these distinguished honorees for their immeasurable contributions to the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus,” said Gala Bel Canto Chair Cheryl R. Scheidemantle (Pasadena). “Without Rebecca Thompson, there would be no LACC. John Williams, whose exceptional music has touched people around the world, has collaborated with LACC on numerous projects, providing unparalleled artistic opportunities for our choristers. And Eileen and Ken Leech have been steadfast supporters of the chorus for nearly two decades, helping to bolster LACC in its mission to provided outstanding choral music training to children.”
The music-filled evening began with Sing All Ye Joyful, featuring the combined LACC choirs.
Tomlinson herself presented Thompson with LACC’s Special 30th Anniversary Tribute Award recognizing her pivotal role in the organization’s creation. Thompson was also showered in song with performances of Domine Deus from Bach’s Mass in G by the Concert Choir, and Tzor Te’udah from the Rebecca Thompson Choral Series by the Young Men’s Ensemble led by Dr. Steven Kronauer.
The Leechs received the LACC’s Rebecca Thompson Founder’s Award from Robert Cantz and their daughter, Catherine Leech, a soprano with LACC who also performed in their honor Voi che sapete from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Additionally, with LACC’s Chamber Singers, Catherine performed James Mulholland’s Come Let’s Be Merry.
John Williams was bestowed with LACC’s Bel Canto Award by James Conlon, Music Director of LA Opera. LACC offered up an all-Williams musical tribute to the renowned composer that included his beloved works Exsultate Justi from the film “Empire of the Sun” (1987) performed by LACC’s Concert Choir, Chamber Singers and Young Men’s Ensemble; Double Trouble from the film “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) performed by LACC’s Apprentice and Intermediate choirs conducted by Mandy Bringham; and Dry Your Tears Afrika from the film “Amistad” (1997) featuring LACC’s combined choirs led by Diana Landis and Anne Tomlinson.
A rousing performance by the combined choirs of Sail Away capped the night.
The dinner featured salad with sea salt roasted beets, petite mixed greens, toasted pine nuts, shaved fennel, and Midnight Moon cheese, dressed with a parsley vinaigrette; pan-roasted breast of chicken in a toasted Marcona almond sauce with Parmesan risotto and seasonal vegetables; and triple chocolate mousse cake with layers of dark, milk, and white chocolate mousse on a chocolate cookie crust. Wines were provided by Jackson Family Wines.
In addition to Scheidemantle, Gala Bel Canto committee members included Vice Chair Lynn Boberg (Sierra Madre); Dianna Lau Beggs (San Marino); Andrea Bland (Pasadena); Mary Blodgett (San Marino); Joanne Crawford-Dunér (Covina Hills); Elizabeth Grossman Besch (La Cañada-Flintridge); and Andrea Patzakis (San Marino).
John Williams is one of America’s most successful composers for film and for the concert stage and one of our nation’s most distinguished musical voices. In a career spanning five decades, he has composed the music and served as music director for more than 100 films, including all seven Star Wars films, the first three Harry Potter films, Superman, JFK, and Home Alone. His 40-year artistic partnership with director Steven Spielberg has resulted in many of Hollywood’s most acclaimed films, including Schindler’s List, E.T., and Jaws. His has also composed scores for more than 200 television films, as well as themes for NBC Nightly News and PBS’s Great Performances, among others. He also composed themes for the 1984, 1988, and 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. He has received five Academy Awards and 49 Oscar nominations, making him the Academy’s most-nominated living person and the second-most nominated person in history. He has received 22 Grammys, four Golden Globes, five Emmys, and numerous gold and platinum records. In 2003, he received the Olympic Order (the International Olympic Committee’s highest honor) for his contributions to the Olympic movement. He has also received the Kennedy Center Honor, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and received the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the U.S. Government. In 1980, Mr. Williams was named music director of the Boston Pops Orchestra, succeeding the legendary Arthur Fiedler. He currently holds the titles of Boston Pops Laureate Conductor and Artist-in-Residence at Tanglewood.
Former LACC Board Member Eileen Leech and Ken Leech, Chief Investment Officer for Western Asset Management Company, were introduced to LACC through a close family friend in 1998, who suggested that their daughter, Catherine, audition for the chorus. Eileen, a former litigator with the New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, found a niche with the chorus. She served on the Board of Directors for seven seasons, with stints as Secretary and as co-chair of the 2008 Gala Bel Canto. A devoted LACC mom as well, she served as rehearsal assistant and an occasional chaperone for LACC field trips. Ken has long been a faithful audience member and supporter of LACC. Ken and Eileen feel strongly that LACC is one of the great institutions in the Los Angeles community and beyond, molding the character of its young charges while simultaneously achieving extraordinary artistry and inspirational musical heights. They both agree, “LACC has played a central part in enhancing the life of our entire family.”
Rebecca Thompson is Founding Director of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, past Children’s Chorus Mistress for the LA Opera and was Associate Director of the Appalachian Children’s Chorus in West Virginia. A specialist in vocal music for young singers, she holds an MA in organ performance from Marshall University, with doctoral studies in choral music education at the University of Texas. She has taught choral music in public, private and parochial schools, pre-school through university. Thompson recently served as Founding Director of the Choristers Guild Institute, a national teacher certification program for directors of young singers. Her community-based choirs have won national competitions and toured internationally. Her singers have also appeared in films and commercials. Thompson is a member of Screen Actors Guild (SAG/AFTRA), and recently served on the SAG national awards nominating committee. She has conducted All State Choirs, festivals and workshops in over 40 states, and has served the American Choral Director’s Association (ACDA) as Western Division Chair of Children’s Choirs; West Virginia ACDA State President; and West Virginia ACDA Women’s Choir Chair. A composer and arranger as well, she has also served on the National Board of The Presbyterian Association of Musicians and twice served on the National Choristers Guild Board.
Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, widely recognized for its agile bel canto sound and artistic excellence, has been lauded as “hauntingly beautiful” (Los Angeles Times), “astonishingly polished” (Performances Magazine), “extraordinary in its abilities” (Culture Spot LA), and “one of the world’s foremost children’s choirs” (Pasadena Star News). Founded in 1986 and led by Artistic Director Anne Tomlinson since 1996, LACC is celebrating its 30th Anniversary Season. It performs with such leading organizations as LA Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Pasadena Symphony and POPS, Calder Quartet, Jacaranda and MUSE/IQUE. Each season, the chorus serves more than 400 children ages 6 to 18 from 50 communities across Los Angeles in six choirs – Concert Choir, Chamber Singers, Young Men’s Ensemble, Intermediate Choir, Apprentice Choir and Preparatory Choir – and a First Experiences in Singing program and First Experiences in Choral Singing Ensemble for 6-9-year-olds. LACC, recipient of Chorus America’s 2014 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, the nation’s highest choral honor, has toured North and South America, Africa, China, Cuba, Australia and Europe. It appears on the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s critically acclaimed Decca recording A Good Understanding, and Plácido Domingo’s Deutsche Grammophon recording Amore Infinito (“Infinite Love”). The subject of a trilogy of documentaries by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Mock, LACC is featured in the Academy Award-nominated Sing!, about a year in the life of the chorus; Sing Opera!, documenting the production of the LACC-commissioned family opera Keepers of the Night; and Sing China!, chronicling its groundbreaking tour to China prior to the Beijing Olympics. LACC has performed with John Mayer on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” and was featured on PBS’s “Great Performances,” BBC Radio, and Public Radio International’s nationally syndicated show “From the Top,” among other credits.